By Jeb Gavin, Photos By Emily Cohen from Chromeo’s SweetLife set
So often when a “group” of musicians, let’s say a band, has a DJ night, it’s really just one member spinning, while the others dance and drink in the DJ booth. Further more, especially if the DJ set comes after a live show at a much bigger venue, the point isn’t to rehash the band’s hits but rather to play music they like, in hopes of sharing it with a small portion of the band’s audience. Chromeo’s barely 70 minute set at the U Street Music Hall on Saturday night after headlining the Treehouse stage at SweetLife spawned a twice-as-long discussion with some friends in the back of the club about the merits and failures of a DJ set.
For example- some people show up to a band’s DJ set expecting to hear the band play their hits. It’s not out of the question I suppose- at least for Chromeo, given that you can dance to most if not all of their songs (and endless remixes of said songs.) But they’re DJing, so except for a few moments where they sang their own vocals, this isn’t so much a performance as it is a really energetic listening party.
It was a solid party though, and the listening was interesting. I’d gone in expecting wall to wall, disco-fied yacht rock (for example, see Justice’s damn fine BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix when they transition Hall and Oates’ “Private Eyes” into Chromeo’s “Tenderoni.”) Instead they opened with a bit of Moombahton and just ran out in every direction from there. A little house, some trance, a bit of dubstep (particularly in the transitions). Dave-1 is no slouch on the decks (a constant concern when rock stars try to spin), but his brother is Fools Gold’s A-Trak, so perhaps it’d be embarrassing if he couldn’t handle a mixer. P-Nut would occasionally drop in a track, but it looked as though he spent most of the show just dancing in the booth next to Dave (an occasionally voguing).
Getting back to the phenomenon of artists playing their own stuff at a DJ set- Chromeo did it, without shame or malice, and because there’s a metric shit-ton of amazing remixes out there from which to choose. But a question arose: are they playing their own stuff because people expect it, or because it helps them out of a jam… or some combination of the two? Did anyone show up to U Hall to see a group that played a venue 10 times as big just hours before, expecting to see the same show for a third of the price? Is it as satisfying to see your favorite artist essentially drag and drop a file into a mixing program as it would be to see them play the audio in that file live and in front of you? Or is this just a case of professionals knowing the shortcuts- if you back yourself into a corner while DJing (which does happen, sometimes you simply can’t pull cuts fast enough even on a computer,) you know your own music the best. You throw on your own track and no matter how rough the transition to and from, all is forgiven because hey, that guy from Phoenix played the A-Trak remix own song!
OK, that’s a lot of questions, and it makes it sound like I’m grumping. Like I said up front, this was a fun night. Heard Junior Senior’s “Move Your Feet” for the first time in years. Watched a young lady in LA Lights high tops doing jumping jacks, and what appeared to be the crunchiest of hippies standing on the back stage of the club krumping (my favorite moment of visual cognitive dissonance at U Hall since some friends dragged a professional-dancer co-worker of ours to a drum and bass show and watched her do arabesques in the middle of a dance circle). And yeah, even I was a little thrilled when Dave would cut out the vocals and sing along to the chorus on “Bonified Lovin’.” Just wish it lasted a little longer.